O's hit market, looking to unload a pitcher

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Spot sought for Erickson

Hargrove backs Mussina

April 26, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- Scott Erickson's return to the Orioles' rotation may now be measured in days instead of weeks. So, too, is the club's most difficult roster move of the season.

Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift has begun to press numerous pitching-poor teams about potential trades that might clear a spot for Erickson. Need would appear to create a seller's market. Timing, however, may make Thrift's search for a partner more difficult.

"I'll say this: I'd rather be in our position than in these other clubs' position," Thrift said of his 11-7 Orioles before last night's game against the Chicago White Sox.

Depending on feedback provided by Erickson and special assistant Bob Schaefer after the pitcher's 6 2/3-inning, three-hit start for Single-A Frederick last night, the Orioles could decide to start Erickson April 30 against the Texas Rangers. Such timing creates urgency for a move that would likely involve a piece from a troubled bullpen.

The asking price is minimal: Thrift apparently is willing to accept a nonroster prospect to clear space. He also adamantly denied that last week's promotion of Jason Johnson from Triple-A Rochester was a means of showcasing him for a possible deal.

"It all depends on what happens elsewhere between now and then -- who does what and when they do it," Thrift said. "Things can change in a hurry."

Six teams in each league entered last night with ERAs of higher than 5.00. Numerous bullpens have been decimated by faulty starting pitching, leaving several large-market payrolls (Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds) desperate for help.

Cubs manager Don Baylor has lost patience with a staff that is rapidly playing itself out of contention before May. Embattled general manager Ed Lynch may prove willing to deal.

The Reds, recently a willing trade partner with the Orioles, would prefer to address their rotation.

The Orioles, who also have been dogged by a queasy bullpen, are willing to discuss deals involving left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy, long reliever Tim Worrell and former No. 4 starter Calvin Maduro, who had showed well in three relief appearances in the last week before taking a liner off his right shin last night.

Signed for $2.6 million through next season, the well-traveled McElroy may be tough to move given recent struggles that have left him with a 20.25 ERA and an opponent's average of .350. Closer Mike Timlin, setup man Mike Trombley and left-handed rookie B. J. Ryan are believed off limits. Manager Mike Hargrove has repeatedly cited Buddy Groom's work as holding together a group affected by fluctuating roles and inconsistency.

Because of contract status and service time, Worrell and Maduro offer the least flexibility. Neither may be optioned and the Orioles are reluctant to concede a salary (Worrell's $700,000) or youth (Maduro is 25) without compensation. Thrift may have to battle the calendar as well. Teams traditionally have been slow to deal before May 1 for fear of generating perceptions of panic.

At every opportunity, Thrift has downplayed the inevitability of Erickson's return before May. "We're not interesting in rushing somebody," he said. "We're going to take every precaution before we bring [Erickson] up. Patience is a virtue."

Don't cry for Mussina

Hargrove isn't concerned about his winless ace, Mike Mussina. Like his pitcher, Hargrove is still waiting for the Orioles' offense to kick in with Mussina on the mound.

Mussina failed to gain a win in his fifth consecutive start in Monday night's 8-2 loss to the White Sox. While Mussina surrendered a season-high seven runs in a season-low 6 1/3 innings, he received only two Orioles hits against Brewers starter Cal Eldred, who pitched his first complete game since 1997.

"We've got to score some runs for him," said Hargrove, noting the Orioles have scored a combined 13 runs in his five starts. "He's 0-2 with three no-decisions. The loss [Monday night], he just didn't pitch well."

Hargrove doesn't believe Mussina is pressing due to a sluggish start and sluggish contract negotiations. Instead, he attributed Mussina's problems Monday to a 6 a.m. arrival following a flight from the West Coast.

"I saw a pitcher last night who was a little tired. Maybe not tired, but a little bit discombobulated," said Hargrove.

Around the horn

Former White Sox right fielder Albert Belle shared a moment with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in the outfield before the game. He went 1-for-5 with a walk and is hitting .275 ... Ryan has allowed runs in only one of seven appearances. ... Working as DH, Brady Anderson hit his 300th career double in the second inning. Anderson became the Orioles' fourth DH this season. ... Catcher is the only position (Charles Johnson, Willie Morales, Greg Myers) to have used more than two players. ... Monday's 0-for-3 broke B. J. Surhoff's nine-game hitting streak. He bounced back last night, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. ... Chicago starter Mike Sirotka was scratched from his previous start because of soreness in his forearm. He was hurt by five walks, two errors and two bloop hits. ... Rich Amaral was rolling twos last night. He had two runs, two hits, two RBIs and two walks.

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